Tuesday, July 23, 2024

This year, I want a resolution to change the world

If you are like me and you have finally taken down the Christmas lights and have a back-to-school week under your belt, you might just now be thinking about new year’s resolutions.

If you are like me, this thinking might happen while scrolling through social media posts when you should be at the gym, knowing you have a piece to write about new year’s resolutions but choosing instead to eat the last three brownies, fold laundry, polish every inch of glass and stainless steel in the house, and, with a final procrastinating flourish, click “Start again” on your Sudoku app, promising your conscience only one more game before you get to work. “It will get the mental juices flowing!”

Do not fret. There is still time to put the brownie and Sudoku down and rescue 2024 with meaningful resolutions to get your daily living in tip-top shape.

For me, there are the usual go to the gym, and spend less, the first of which is not a true resolution because I already go, and the second of which means 12 months of rationalizing and moving goal posts so I can spend more. Like last year, when I hovered my cursor over “Add to cart” on the complete works of Pierre Berton, a spontaneous purchasing decision inspired by a podcast about this award-winning chronicler of Canadian history. “Of course, you should buy the books,” my brain whispered. “Spend less? Less than whom? Lots of people spend more money than this.”

As well as shallow and, in one case, unachievable, those resolutions seem so same-old this year. And they are, according to Forbes Health, which reports that 2024’s most popular resolutions are improving fitness, finances, and mental health. This was proven true when my son tried to visit the gym last week at 4:30 in the afternoon.

“Can you come pick me up?” he texted me 20 minutes after I had dropped him off and just as I had sunk into the couch for an hour of uninterrupted resolution crafting. “It’s crowded in here. All I’m doing is standing around waiting.”

Ten minutes later, I saw why Julian had bailed. Crunch Gym looked like a rave with the lights turned on.

“There must be more to resolutions than this!” I thought, deciding then and there to create resolutions that would set me apart from the madding bench-pressing crowd. This year, I would aim higher and adopt resolutions that change the world!

First stop, Antiquity. Four thousand years ago, the Babylonians made yearly promises to the gods. Eureka! Inspiration would surely be found in the ancients … Paying debts and returning things they borrowed – wait, really?! I might be missing something, but the Babylonians sound like modern-day suburbanites trying to pay off the house and stay on the right side of neighbours who may be called upon to babysit. Read ahead a few hundred years and it appears all this debt-paying and thing-returning got them no more than God’s anger, society’s collapse, and 3,000 of their citizens impaled on the city’s walls by conquering Persians. Hmmm. Maybe the Babylonians are not the example I am looking for.

Next stop, Modernity. As any brave journalist knows, measuring the pulse of the modern-day populace means getting up from the home-office chair, grabbing a coffee, sitting back down, and starting a new Google search. Oh sure, it used to mean grabbing a tape recorder and flying out the door for some man-on-the-street interviews, but with certain Canadian politicians resolving this year to call that assault, Google it is!

The first offering in the search results was an episode of “Inside the NBA” where Charles Barkley told the audience his 2024 resolution was giving up Diet Coke. It sounded more like something you give up for Lent than a new year’s resolution. Still, I briefly considered stealing this easy win as I have not tasted the stuff since Mr. Barkley was a 1980s NBA rookie. In the end, I had to admit it scored low on “aim higher and change the world” – so I kept looking.

The Pioneer Woman (a magazine I have never heard of until now; is it written for Quakers?) offered suggestions. With the chipper subtitle, “Change Your Habits, Change Your Life!”, their article, “New Year’s Resolutions to Inspire You” looked promising. “Practice Breathing Exercises” was at the top of the list, which I immediately started to do when I realized the article contained 69 more suggestions, each accompanied by a kitschy stock photo and lengthy description. I got through two more, “Start A Podcast”, and “Get A Standing Desk” when I sensed a familiar ploy of showing you what you lack and selling it to you. Declaring the article to be an advertisement in disguise, I threw in the towel. I own a standing desk. Occasionally, it relieves my sciatica, but world-changing it is not.

That brief brush with 70 suggestions inspired new respect for the simplicity of Mr. Barkley’s single resolution. Now I needed one that would change the world.

It was then I stumbled on a set of resolutions set down by English clergyman John Wesley. An actual pioneer, Mr. Wesley founded the Methodist church in 1730. In his journal, written 10 years later and published online by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, he writes that “this year” he will renew resolutions with a focus on, not things or activities that make him look or feel better, but rather “…my own behaviour.”

This might have merit; something that aims higher than a stand-up desk.

Mr. Wesley’s resolutions are noble. I especially liked #1: “To use absolute openness and unreserve with all I should converse with.” With the noose of what you can and cannot say bruising the necks of free speakers across the western world, following Mr. Wesley’s 1740 resolution would be brave in 2024. And if that resolution was guided by Mr. Wesley’s stated wish to use that speech to contribute to a “valuable end” for others, it could change the world.

However, as a hopeful humour writer, I can’t back Mr. Wesley’s #2: “To labor after continual seriousness, not willingly indulging myself in any the least levity of behaviour, or in laughter; no, not for a moment.” If any reader thinks this has already been achieved through reading this article, let me resoundingly endorse Pioneer Woman’s number 31, “Start A Diary.”

I like Mr. Wesley’s focus on changing behaviour. Dedicated to doing something more than resisting a beverage and clearly caring for the people around him, I think he was on to something. As our new year’s resolutions become more self-serving and self-centred, a bit too same-old-same-old, some 1740 sensibility might be what we need in 2024.

For me, I am jumping ahead to 1979 and an award ceremony in which the recipient shared Mr. Wesley’s focus on behaviour and whose resolution affected a change that is monumental and still universally doable. The resolution checks all the boxes. It is singular, aims high, and allows for brownies and Sudoku. It will not fight with my conscience, force me to wait for Nautilus machines, or require me to buy anything. It will forgive me for failing and reward me for succeeding with the greatest change anyone could ask for – the change on a face when despair gives way to joy.

When accepting her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa told us we could change the world and gave us the only resolution we need to get it done. She said, “We will begin to love. And if we love, naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, our next-door neighbour, in the country we live, in the whole world.”

Happy 2024!

Colleen Stewart
Colleen Stewart
Colleen Stewart is a Carleton University journalism grad who avoided real work by travelling to 53 countries and writing about her adventures. In 2012, she founded Perfect Pitch Consulting to help businesses across North America tell better stories about what they do and why. In 2020, she published her first book, The Story Compass. Every few months, Colleen gets the itch, and that means escaping real work to travel and find some adventures to write about.
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